Gorgeous George


TORONTO — By now, many around the world have heard that provocative British politician George Galloway has been banned from entering Canada.

Practically no one, by comparison, has heard of Abousfian Abdelrazik. Yet most of those who have would argue that Abdelrazik's case is far more outrageous.

Galloway, dubbed “Gorgeous George” for his fashion flair, is the sole member in the British parliament of the anti-war group, Respect. An uncompromising left-winger, he was thrown out of the Labour Party in 2003 for emphatically opposing the invasion of Iraq. Last week, he was designated a threat to national security and barred from entering Canada for a speaking tour.

A spokesperson for Canada’s immigration minister accused Galloway of raising funds for the Palestinian group Hamas, which the Canadian government considers a terrorist organization, and of being “a popinjay for those Taliban fighters who are trying to kill Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.”

Galloway, who this month led an aid convoy to war-flattened Gaza, charges Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney with trampling free speech. He has vowed to challenge his ban in court.

The ban comes from a conservative government that has shifted Canadian foreign policy to what critics consider unquestioning support for Israel. Most recently, Kenney said he would not renew $2.5 million worth of contracts that the Canadian Arab Federation uses to teach English to immigrants. The move came after the federation’s leader called Kenney a “professional whore” who supports Israel to win Jewish votes in Canada.

It's impossible to know whether Abdelrazik has heard of the Galloway kerfuffle. But it’s a safe bet that he wishes his case would receive as much international attention.

Abdelrazik has been blocked from re-entering Canada for more than five years. What makes the case particularly noteworthy is that Abdelrazik, unlike Galloway, has been a Canadian citizen since 1995.

The bizarre tale of the Canadian government keeping one of its own citizens out of the country began in 2003. That year, Abdelrazik left his wife and seven young children in Montreal to go visit his ailing mother in Khartoum, Sudan.

On Sept. 10, 2003, he was arrested by Sudanese authorities on a request from Canada’s spy agency, known as CSIS, according to secret documents from Canada’s foreign affairs department — the documents were obtained by Paul Dewar, a politician with the left-of-center New Democratic Party. CSIS denies having done so.

Dewar calls it “the first case of Canadian rendition” — the George W. Bush administration's discredited practice of sending suspects to be tortured in other countries. At the time, the government in Canada was the centrist Liberal Party.

Canadian and American security services suspected Abdelrazik of being a Muslim extremist — a charge his lawyer has flatly denied. He was twice jailed in Khartoum for a total of two years, and he claims that he was tortured. While imprisoned, he was interrogated by both CSIS and FBI agents.

Canadian government documents obtained by the Globe and Mail newspaper say FBI agents told Abdelrazik “he will never return to Canada” unless he cooperated fully. He was never charged. Sudanese authorities eventually released him, saying there was no evidence of links to terrorism. That’s when Abdelrazik’s ordeal became all the more Kafkaesque.

By then, the Bush administration had labeled Abdelrazik a “high-level” Al Qaeda operative. It placed him on the United Nations’ terrorist blacklist and on America’s “no-fly” list. The Canadian government refused to issue Abdelrazik a passport. Although free, he was marooned in Sudan.

In a letter dated Nov. 15, 2007, the top anti-terrorist officer for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — the equivalent of the FBI — noted the force had reviewed Abdelrazik’s file and cleared him of any criminal or terrorist links. Yet still no travel documents were issued. By this time, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party was in power.

In April 2008, Abdelrazik walked into the Canadian embassy in Khartoum and was granted “temporary safe haven” by the same government that refused to allow him to return home. He’s been living in the embassy lobby ever since.

The U.N. blacklist specifically allows for any listed person to return home. The Harper government initially promised it would issue an emergency passport if Abdelrazik managed to book a seat on a flight to Canada. The chances were slim, since airlines fear losing U.S. landing rights by defying its “no-fly” list ban.

When Etihad Airways suddenly booked Adbelrazik, the Canadian government reneged on its promise. It wrote to his lawyer in December 2008 and upped the ante — Abdelrazik would be issued a passport if he could present a fully paid ticket.

Abdelrazik is penniless. To make matters worse, the government warned it could criminalize anyone who gives him money on charges of abetting a terrorist. Still, at last count, 160 Canadians had chipped in to help purchase a ticket from Khartoum to Montreal.

But Abdelrazik continues to live in the lobby of the Canadian embassy in Sudan. Some have described his case as an act of banishment. Many are demanding the Canadian government respect the fundamental right of a Canadian to be allowed to return home.

As George Galloway whips up a storm of publicity surrounding his ban from Canada, Abousfian Abdelrazik remains forgotten and exiled from his own country. 

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